Colm Cavanagh came to Tyrone’s rescue with a sensational winning goal deep into injury time at Mullingar.
The All-Ireland champions were veering towards what would have been a third successive NFL defeat, but in true Red Hand spirit, refused to admit defeat, and a 1-2 salvo in the dying moments saw them cruelly deny brave Westmeath.
Tomas O Flatharta’s men are still looking for their first league points and look odds-on to make the drop, but they surely deserved something from this encounter.
Both sides had goal chances in the opening quarter. First Denis Glennon got on the end of Conrad Reilly’s punted delivery, but Johnny Curran got down to keep his line intact.
And Tyrone had an even better opportunity when Kevin Hughes’ attempt to send Shaun O’Neill clear was thwarted by a superb interception by Alan Claffey.
By that time, the All-Ireland champions had built up a 0-4 to 0-1 lead, with Niall Gormley, Davy Harte, Sean Cavanagh and defender Sean O’Neill all on target.
Debutant Conor Lynam was the home side’s sole marksman in that period, but Denis Glennon cut the deficit to two points with a converted free.
Sean O’Neill and his Dromore namesake Shaun O’Neill both made impressive full league starts, both hitting a couple of points, but with Niall Kilcoyne getting into the mood and beginning to make an impression at midfield for Westmeath, Tyrone’s earlier dominance started to falter.
Kilcoyne hit a couple of superb long range points, and another Glennon free left just two points between the sides, but another surge by the Red Hands late in the half opened out a two points lead, Tyrone ahead by 0-9 to 0-7 at the break.
Tyrone’s injury problems mounted when Justin McMahon was forced out of the game with a hamstring injury just three minutes into the second half, Enda McGinley having lasted just nine minutes of the first.
Westmeath grew in confidence, pressing forward in waves of attack, and points from Conrad Reilly and Glennon, with fifth, revived their challenge. And when Glennon took a Doran Harte pass to drive through and blast home a brilliant 50th minute goal, they led for the first time.
Davy Harte’s second point brought Tyrone level, but with a minute of normal time to play, the Leinster men struck for a second goal, Michael Ennis fisting home after John Smith had made ground down the right.
Trailing by three points, Tyrone had to dig deep, and that they did. Niall Gormley’s fiercely struck shot was fingertipped over the bar by Allstar goalkeeper Gary Connaughton, Colm McCullagh converted his second free, and then came the last throw of the dice.
Conor Gormley pressed forward from the back, and when his shot was kept out by Connaughton, Colm Cavanagh was in like a flash to finish the bobbling ball to the net.
Westmeath: G Connaughton, A Claffey, K Gavin, J Keane, F Boyle, D Heavin, D Harte, D Duffy, N Kilcoyne (0-2), D Duffy, M Ennis (1-0), P Bannon, C Reilly (0-1), F Spollen, D Glennon (1-6, 3f), C Lynam (0-1). Subs: J Smith for Bannon, T McDaniel for Spollen, K Scally for Reilly, K Martin for Lynam
Tyrone: J Curran, C Gormley, Justin McMahon, M Swift, D Harte (0-2), Sean O’Neill (0-2, 1 ‘45’), P Jordan, K Hughes, E McGinley, R Mulgrew, C Cavanagh (1-0), O Mulligan, N Gormley (0-2, 1f), S Cavanagh (0-5, 3f), Shaun O'Neill (0-2). Subs: C Holmes for McGinley, P Donnelly for McMahon, C McCullagh (0-2, 2f) for Shaun O’Neill, M Penrose for Mulgrew, C McCarron for Donnelly (yellow card).
Referee: D Fahy (Longford).